March 26, 2021
School curriculum has historically always been divisive. To really understand this, I’ve had to discuss with friends and neighbors who are indigenous or Black, Latino or Asian, about their experiences growing up in Iowa schools.
One student who identifies as African American graduated from Waterloo High School in 1994: “I just think about how demeaned I felt as a child by what we were taught.”
The student was Nikole Hannah-Jones. “The way we are taught history in school teaches Black kids to be ashamed. We are basically taught that we let white people whip us and force us to work for them, then we waited for white people to free us. That’s a very demeaning way to learn this history.” (The Daily Iowan, 2/14/2021).
Nikole Hannah-Jones is now a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist and creator of the landmark 1619 Project. The project shows the power of putting Black history and the contributions of Black people at the center of U.S. history.
It is the same project that became the target of the Iowa Legislature. Our State Legislature is moving forth a bill (House File 802) that intends to ban the 1619 Project curriculum and any other training that can be “construed” as “divisive.” (Des Moines Register, 2/9/2021)
“Divisive concepts” are defined in the bill as a long list of things, which I encourage you to read. “Divisive concepts” include: “That any individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of that individual’s race or sex.”
By this definition, history lessons about slavery like, Ms. Hannah-Jones was taught, should be banned, not reinforced. But instead, the sponsors of H.F. 802 want to do the opposite and ban the 1619 Project curriculum.
We have to ask the question:
As a white woman born in small-town Iowa, I’ve learned an immense amount since entering a more diverse community. Sometimes I’ve felt discomfort, guilt, anguish, and other forms of psychological distress. Learning about ourselves, our history, and our knowledge gaps can be very uncomfortable. But I wouldn’t trade those lessons for anything.
This bill, H.F.802, is expected to come to vote next week. If you would like to let the Legislature know your opinions about H.F.802, contact your legislator or one of these lawmakers: Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott, Sen. Amy Sinclair, Sen. Herman Quirmback, and Sen. Jeff Taylor.